In the first part of this series, Alan Noble looked at what the phrase “vote with your dollars” means in church culture and what ideology it supports. In its common usage, the phrase seems to be used to support two main ideas: if we vote for Christian films, more Christian films will be made; and if we vote for films that include a Christian worldview, the Church will have a more prominent voice in the media. Part 1 of this series dealt with the former idea, and this concluding post will explore the latter.
If it will not produce better films, at least it will give us a louder voice in the world, someone might retort. But what kind of voice do these films give us and how do they actually impact the world? For the most part, the kind of effect Christian films have cannot be accurately described as a “voice” but as mind share; they function to increase the brand recognition of Christianity, not to sincerely persuade people of the Truth. The reason for this I believe is that there is an insular effect in “voting with your dollars.” What happens is that we “vote” for films that are Christian, Hollywood sees that there is money to be made in Christian films, they study our demographic and produce films that we want to see. We want to see movies that tell us that we are right and that they are wrong.
Instead of producing movies of excellence that accurately and compellingly tell the Truth about life, we are left with what amounts to cinematic cheerleading. The language, style, and content fails to communicate anything to the world since only Christians could find the films appealing. The “voice” does not communicate persuasively to the world, it states the preference of the viewers, Christianity. There are several problems with this situation. It creates an attitude of “Us vs. Them” as opposed to “The Truth vs. A Lie.” When we are more concerned with our cultural group having a positive image in the public, having a large mind share, then we have lost sight of people and we are marketing our Faith. This approach to creating a voice in the world also rarely produces sincere dialogue between believers and unbelievers, since its main purpose is to make our Faith seem popular and useful–just like any other product on the market.
Unfortunately, in our media-driven culture the value and validity of ideas are tested by their marketability. This has lead many Christians to mistakenly believe that we need to have a strong voice in the media so that we can compete. But the Great Commission is not about “competing,” it is about sharing the Truth, the Gospel. Ideas and concepts in the media are presented primarily as options, choices we have as consumers. Just as we can decide between Pepsi and Coke, Honda and Toyota, Republican and Democrat, we can choice our preference in faiths: Buddhist, Mormon, Christian, Muslim, Agnostic, Atheist. It becomes not a matter of which is the Truth, but which has the best public image, the most persuasive voice in the media. Much like the use of Christian clothing, the films that are often supported when we “vote with our dollars” do not create a voice speaking the Truth to the world, they bolster the mind share of the Christian culture, treating our faith as merely another option in a global marketplace of ideas.
Does this mean we should be silent in the world and never “vote” for films with Christian content? No, not at all. We are called to have a voice in the world, but the voice we should have in the world should be focused on individual people, not on our church culture. And this voice does not need to be louder, to have more mind share, or to compete with commercials, it needs to honestly and humbly glorify and represent Christ. We are not going to fulfill the Great Commission through a good marketing campaign or public relations. In fact, people who are persuaded by an impersonal Voice of Christianity in the media are more than likely to treat it as merely another choice in the market; if we treat the Good News as a product, image, or lifestyle, other people will treat it as such. The kind of voice we should seek to have in the world is one that communicates, that seeks to hear other people (and in doing, love them), and is ultimately unconcerned with how the world views our Faith and our culture; it is a voice wholly concerned with loving God by telling the Truth to people, in love.
As for voting, I have always encouraged Christians to support excellence in the arts. If we want believers to make works that men can see and glorify their Father in heaven, then we need to praise, recognize, and “vote” for those works. But in order to “vote” in a manner that will lead to better films, we need to shift our thinking from working towards a better public image of Christianity towards glorifying God by making works that speak the Truth. Once we make this shift, we can see that we shouldn’t just “vote” for films when they are made by Christians, deal with famous Christians, or positively present Conservative politics. We should be voting for works that are marked with sincerity, strive for excellence, and seek to communicate beyond the sphere of our church communities.
So go vote, but before you do, consider why it is that you “vote with your dollars.” What good do you hope to accomplish? And even more importantly, what good should be accomplished? Should we be seeking to making Christianity into a popular lifestyle choice, or to support works of excellence that cause people to glorify their Father in heaven?